Tag Archives: Tour

Greetings From Austin

15 Mar

A couple of weeks ago, James and I met up with Will and Brian in Austin, Texas. Everyone tells us how cool Austin is, so we figured we’d do a mini group holiday and check it out. =)

Friday

One of my favourite things about Austin was all the murals. This one was on the way to brunch:
IMG_20180302_114344We ate at Congress Cafe, which was recommended by one of James’ coworkers – the food was tasty and plentiful and it was $3 sangria day!

James took this selfie to send to Brian who wouldn’t arrive until later that evening:
IMG_20180302_123814Will was appalled at his facial expression and demanded James take another picture. I think the second one makes him look like a perky turtle!IMG_20180302_124236After brunch we went to Allen’s boots to look at boots and cowboy hats.
IMG_20180302_133524James looks like a cowboy and Will looks like a middle aged lady on her way to church.

We walked around and saw a bird holding a tortilla chip. Actually we saw multiple birds with multiple tortilla chips but this is the one I got a photo of: IMG_20180302_141049And some more murals:
IMG_20180302_142035Including the most famous Austin mural:
IMG_20180302_142641Inside the mural building was an art gallery where we met a dog called Hank Jnr Jnr Jnr. Every time someone opened the door he would waddle over to greet them. He was such a good boy: IMG_20180302_143145We then headed to the university district where we saw even more murals! I think this one is also quite famous because I saw it on a souvenir t-shirt:
IMG_20180302_155149 I really liked this one, which I think James took from the car: IMG_20180302_164852Then we had a nap before heading to the Broken Spoke and leaning how to two-step. Here are some of the men learning their moves:IMG_20180302_203501Afterwards we met up with Brian for a late dinner and drinks at Stubb’s BBQ (it was meh, but AWOLNATION was playing downstairs which was pretty cool), and people watched on 6th street.

Saturday

Saturday morning we got up early to ride electric minibikes around Austin. It was with a company called Your Biker Gang and it was so much fun! We got super lucky and were the only ones on the tour – so we got a private tour for the cost of a regular one.

But first, a mural I saw on our walk over – look at the little animals!
IMG_20180303_082631Our guide was great and took a ton of photos for us. =) Here we are on a pedestrian/cyclist bridge: IMG_20180303_092205Facing the other way:
IMG_20180303_092106At the Willie Nelson statue downtown:
IMG_20180303_093504We also saw the Forever Bicycles sculpture by Ai Weiwei. Our guide said there used to be one in China as well but people kept stealing the bikes.IMG_20180303_094858
In Austin, all people try to do is climb it:IMG_20180303_095341 We stopped by another iconic Austin mural: IMG_20180303_101009After the “nice” photo was taken, the guys started trying to cover everyone’s faces. I emerged unscathed by taking advantage of my lower center of gravity.
IMG_20180303_101022 (1)I took this photo while James drove down Congress Ave towards the Capitol Building:
IMG_20180303_103343Seriously though, the bikes were really easy to ride. The fat tyres made them super stable and it was basically impossible to fall off.

We checked out the Rainey street bars, the Driskill Hotel and then headed to the Graffiti Park. Here is James staring in wonderment: IMG_20180303_105006Even the plants had graffiti on them! This blue dog was James’ favourite:
IMG_20180303_105140 Us at the top, with a great view of Austin:  IMG_20180303_105356So yeah, that was really fun. The minibikes were an unusual way to see all the major tourist attractions – we felt very smug when we passed a Segway tour. =P

Another mural from the walk back to our place:
IMG_20180303_113903We went to Coopers BBQ for lunch. Each table had a giant jar of pickled jalapenos that was incredibly spicy:
IMG_20180303_121023I feel really bad – I realised that I don’t have any photos of all the barbecue we ate that long weekend. And we ate a shit ton.

After lunch we picked up our rental car and drove to Hamilton pool IMG_20180303_151001James came prepared and brought his wetsuit.
IMG_20180303_151606Don’t be fooled by Will and Brian in their bathers – what you see in the above photo is as far as they went in the water.

The water was super cold, but James and I have been fortified by Australian oceans. And we didn’t drive all the way there to not swim.

My phone is waterproof so I was OK to bring it in the water!
IMG_20180303_152424
Once it started raining we drove back. After some showers we walked to the Congress Avenue Bridge to check out the bats. Unfortunately the rain made them shy so all we saw was a handful before we had to leave for dinner.

Austin was quite pretty in the rain though. =)
IMG_20180303_190124The steakhouse was very good (though again, we ordered too much) and it was fun getting dressed up to go out.
IMG_20180303_201349After dinner we went to one shitty speakeasy, and after Will and Brian went to bed, James and I headed to a better speakeasy (located in a parking garage – I could see cars going up and down the ramps lol). We headed back around 2am.

Sunday

How can you go to Austin without trying Franklin Barbecue?
IMG_20180304_114219Even though it was raining the line was still pretty long – apparently the wait is normally hours. I was talking to a friend in San Francisco who said that he waited three hours in line and then one of the employees came out and said there might not be any more barbecue left by the time they got to the front. =(

That didn’t happen to us, though. We had pre-ordered a couple of months ago, so got to skip the queue. IMG_20180304_115617Once again, no photos cos we took it back to our airbnb and plated it in an ugly way. But it was really good – not the best barbecue that Brian (who lives in Atlanta) has ever had, but by far the best that I’ve ever had. (The second barbecue that I’ve ever had was some of the leftover Franklin’s I had as a midnight snack and the third best was the rest of the Franklin’s I had for breakfast the next morning).

But anyway, after our lunch we headed to the Texas Capitol Building.
IMG_20180304_140729Google helpfully made this montage of Will trying to cover everyone’s faces with his coffee:

IMG_20180304_140729-ANIMATION

Inside the Capitol Building looking up:
IMG_20180304_143935-EFFECTS Inside the Capitol Building looking down: IMG_20180304_152527
I think this room was the House of Representatives:
IMG_20180304_145756 We were all supposed to make a face. Will and I look shocked, James looks like he smelled a fart, and Brian looks like a stern, pale ghost.

In the garden outside were a lot of statues, including this replica Statue of Liberty. We got a much better photo with it than we did the actual Statue of Liberty.IMG_20180304_160614Then it was time for Brian to go to the airport. =( Will, James and I headed to a bunch of breweries. This was the second one we went to, which was a combination brewery and pizzeria. Smart.
IMG_20180304_182529 They even had ciders for me: IMG_20180304_182605After our brewery run we went to the Midnight Cowboy speakeasy. Here is our bartender mixing our drinks at our table:
IMG_20180304_213537After a few drinks we headed to Rainey street. It was a drizzly Sunday night so it was nice and quiet. Here we are at a bar made out of shipping containers. IMG_20180304_232612And because I know you’re not sick of murals here’s one we saw on one of our walks that night. We actually saw this one in progress on Friday and Saturday, and finished on Sunday. =)
IMG_20180304_210916
Monday

In the morning James and Will headed to brunch while I polished off the rest of our barbecue. We checked out of our airbnb and dropped our bags off at Google Austin.

Much like Austin it was small but cool and cute. The views were fantastic.
IMG_20180305_113500In the cafeteria there was a cool food truck that was half inside: IMG_20180305_112929And half outside:
IMG_20180305_113049A wall of cardboard VR viewers: IMG_20180305_113957I played pacman while the guys went to the bathroom:
IMG_20180305_114116This was the reception area. I liked the ceiling kayak decor and that hoopy chair James is sitting in. IMG_20180305_120027Unfortunately this wasn’t working while we were there. =(
IMG_20180305_115249The original plan was for Will and James to go to a museum while I went shopping but James decided he wanted to see Black Panther at Alamo Drafthouse (we have an Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco but I guess he wanted to go in its home city) so I went with him.

Hey, this looks familiar!
IMG_20180305_122746 Overall Austin was nicer than I thought it would be. I liked how compact it was and how many cool little bars and restaurants there were.

It was already getting a bit warm while we were there, so I can’t imagine how brutal the weather would be for half the year. It’s definitely a great place to visit though – I would totally go back and eat more barbecue.IMG_20180305_151646

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Days 5-9 of a Hastily-Planned Trip to Seoul!

7 Mar

Day 5 – Olympic Day

The Olympics were held in Pyeongchang (and yes, I think everyone did a bit of a double-take at the name) about 1.5 hours from Seoul by high speed train.

We had originally wanted to watch the snowboard halfpipe but it wrapped up before we arrived in Korea so we watched the ski halfpipe women’s finals and men’s qualifiers instead, which was still really fun.
IMG_20180220_095725The morning started with a hiccup because we missed our booked train and pretty much every other train was sold out (seat reservations and standing room) . Luckily the guy working there managed to find us a train leaving an hour later from a different station, and I’d built so many contingencies into our itinerary that we still managed to get to Pyeongchang, take the shuttle, buy souvenirs, and get seated 30 minutes before the event.

Our view of the halfpipe:
IMG_20180220_110858The view in the standing area was slightly better because you got a better perspective of how high the competitors were jumping, but it was maybe a 10% increase in view with a 150% decrease in comfort. And honestly, the best vantage point is always going to be from your couch – the main reason to go to the Olympics is the atmosphere.

We really enjoyed seeing people dressed up supporting their countries. Everyone was so friendly and we were all having a great time.

Aussie Aussie Aussie!
IMG_20180220_112534(Disclaimer: no Aussies were in this event – possibly something we should have researched in advance).

There was one Korean competing, which was really fun because there would be this huge roar from the crowd every time he came up. James and I agreed that having experienced that, we would have liked to see an event with more Koreans in it – perhaps an indoor one! It was a sunny day but incredibly cold when the wind picked up. We were both wearing thermals, gloves, hat, scarves, multiple coats/jackets and it was still chilly at times.IMG_20180220_152538To the right you can see the slopestyle course – in between events we saw groups of people practising on it.

The most heavily-represented fans were South Korea, the US and Canada, but there were a lot of European and Scandinavian countries there too. And an adorable tour group that wore a bunch of random flags as tiny shawls (why didn’t they just wear their own flags??). Here James is with some of them at the pedestrian crossing:
IMG_20180220_173827His Boxing Kangaroo flag was very much admired – I saw some people from the tour group eyeing it enviously and some of the Olympic volunteers asked him about it as well.

So majestic.
IMG_20180220_173506It took a long time to get into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium so we didn’t have a ton of time to look around – and we definitely didn’t want to miss our train again! There was a massive souvenir store and a center that had a bunch of cool stuff, like VR snowboard and bobsled and this robot fish.Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180220171004They also had a cool sculpture outside – I like how the Olympic rings at the bottom blend into it.
IMG_20180220_172819Also notice how cold that poor guy behind us is. He did not have the warming properties of Flag.

It took awhile to find the shuttle stop to get to the Jinbu KTX station but, having learned from our previous experience, we’d left plenty of time. Which meant we could take more photos at the station! A Jehovah’s Witness gave us some pamphlets then took this photo for us:
IMG_20180220_182327The Olympic mascots are Soohorang (white tiger) and Bandabi (black bear). James really liked the tiger and wanted to buy one for the cats as a souvenir. But the tiger was insanely popular – I think because they gave him to the winners, so he was more prominent – and the little version of him was basically sold out. They had a ton of little black bears but none of the white tiger. James eventually found the tiger at the airport – but you had to buy him bundled with the bear haha.

James has re-named them Pyeongchang and Shitbear. Now that we’re home he keeps taking photos of the cats with Pyeongchang and staging photos of them ignoring Shitbear.

Anyway, when we got back to Seoul we had some toppoki and ramen at a Marvel-themed bar.
IMG_20180220_210621 The toppoki in its uncooked state: IMG_20180220_210735Also cheese fried rice! It tasted a bit like a parma.
IMG_20180220_211120We were both surprised at how many cheese dishes there were in Korea. When we’re in Asian countries James is used to not having to worry about his lactose intolerance.

Unimpressed.
IMG_20180219_141646
Day 6 – DMZ Day

The only “must-do” on my list was visiting the Dermilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
IMG_20180221_135548The most interesting part is the JSA (Joint Security Area), and only a few companies do that, including the one we went with, Koridoor Tours. We were quite lucky to get in since we were doing everything on quite short notice.

Looking into North Korea:IMG_20180221_094234 (1)Do you see the concrete dividers between the blue houses? Everything beyond that is North Korea.

Our military guide said that there used to be North Korean guards visible but not anymore – he thought maybe because they realised they were being used in the tour. But back then both Koreas would post their tallest, buffest guards to intimidate the other side. You had to be at least 6′ in South Korea, but he said the tallest North Korean guards were 5’7″ or 5’8″.

Here is James half in North Korea and half in South Korea. The microphone line on the conference table is the dividing line between the two countries. IMG_20180221_095315Our military guide said he wasn’t allowed to cross, so he stayed on the South Korea side.

One of the South Korean guards – they were all completely still and expressionless the whole time (apparently if you got too close they would elbow you away – we did not test that out):
IMG_20180221_095343It was a surprisingly tense experience. Going from the Olympics, which is a symbol of peace and friendship between countries and had the United Korea team, to the DMZ/JSA, where you can tell that relations are not friendly, was definitely an eye-opener.

When I checked the Koridoor tour page today, it said “Access to the ‘Bridge of no return and Point of Ax Murder’ has been restricted due to the current development between South and North Korea.” Yikes.

Afterwards we went to see a train station that was originally supposed to link the two Koreas. IMG_20180221_111415If the JSA was tense then this was pretty surreal. Here is James in the sitting area, waiting for a train that will never arrive.IMG_20180221_105446For $1 we bought a ticket to go see the train platform area. One ticket to Pyeongyang please! IMG_20180221_105920After seeing how busy most stations were, it was kind of eerie seeing a completely empty, unused one. IMG_20180221_110452Apparently they keep closing and re-opening the station and the last time it was open was 2013. I guess the hope is that one day relations between South and North Korea will improve and it will be fully operational.IMG_20180221_110407A hard choice – Pyeongyang or Seoul? IMG_20180221_110331In that direction is North Korea. IMG_20180221_110541When Dorasan station first opened, the German government gave them a piece of the Berlin Wall as a symbol of reunification. IMG_20180221_110651The station also had a cool little souvenir shop where James got a t-shirt and a bottle of North Korean wine.

We had lunch and took a picture at what I think is a checkpoint for road travel to North Korea? I think our guide said this was how the North Korean Olympians travelled in. IMG_20180221_120929Afterwards we went to an observatory where we could actually see into North Korea proper. It was a reasonably clear day (our guide said we were quite lucky and it’s only like that 20% of the time).

In this picture on the left is a North Korean village and on the right is a South Korean one. The South Korean government put up their country’s flag on a giant flagpole and in response the North Korean government made an even taller flagpole to hoist their flag. IMG_20180221_123018The North Korean village is called the Propoganda village because it’s completely fake. The buildings are empty facades, don’t have glass in the windows, and some of them don’t even have interior rooms.

They also play propoganda and music at each other. I read that there was a period of about 10 years where they mutually agreed to stop, but resumed because of recent escalating tensions. The South Korean speaker is bottom right (it was playing k-pop and western music) and you can see the forest separating the two Koreas.IMG_20180221_122658Here is James struggling to use the binoculars. He is too tall for South Korea. IMG_20180221_122827Then we headed to the 3rd infiltration tunnel. It was one of at least four that North Korea made to infiltrate South Korea under the pretense of mining for coal. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but it was pretty much just a damp, crude tunnel with very low ceilings.

So yeah, that was our tour of the DMZ and JSA. Pretty interesting! We took the subway back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. We went to Jinmi Sikdang, which is famous for its ganjang gejang – raw crab marinated in soy sauce.

When the taxi driver took us there he couldn’t find any signage so he asked for directions from some construction workers. While we were paying we saw a well-dressed Korean woman go inside and James said that after we went in the driver also came in to look around – I guess he was curious what sort of restaurant would appeal to construction workers, tourists and fancy Korean ladies.

There isn’t even a menu – crab is the only thing they sell. You just tell them how many are in your party and they prepare the appropriate number of crabs.

It was so good. IMG_20180221_171804The crab was incredibly creamy and the salty soy sauce brine and roe made it perfect with a spoonful of rice or egg.IMG_20180221_175858Everything tasted like a richer, creamier version of normal crab. So the innards were super rich – you could really only eat a little bit at a time, as James found out when he ate a giant gob of it.

This was my favourite part of the crab – I don’t know what it was because I don’t think I’ve ever had it before. But it was a perfect little mouthful of crab with a ton of flavour and juices captured in what I thought of as the artichoke leaf-like part.

IMG_20180221_180615James isn’t a massive fan of crab in general but I loved it. He had some but mainly kept himself occupied with the side dishes while I demolished 1.5 portions of crab.

Day 7 – Shopping Day

This was the day of James’ meeting so I took the opportunity to explore some of Seoul’s famous shopping districts.

I started in Myeongdong where our hotel was, but was pretty put off by the pushy cosmetics salespeople. I did like A-land, which was a cool department store where I bought a ton of CosRX skincare:
IMG_20180307_114715I  also liked this men’s jumper that I ended up getting in grey. Though now I’m like … was that a mistake? I have a lot of grey hoodies and no black ones!
IMG_20180222_105952Afterwards I went to the Ewha shopping district and also the Dongdaemun shopping malls. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed since a lot of the stores have the same stock. There was one really good sock store on the fashion street in Ewha – it had the largest selection of socks out of any store that I saw in the markets, so if you want to stock up on souvenirs that was a pretty good place for it. (Later when we were walking all around Myeongdong looking for the perfect combination of socks, I thought longingly of that place)

For dinner I met up with James and his coworker for Korean BBQ. It was pretty cool – the extractor vents were so powerful and quiet – even though everyone was having BBQ you couldn’t see or smell any smoke and you couldn’t hear the vents working.

Look how hot and glowy it was!
IMG_20180222_200434 They cooked the meat for us to a perfect medium rare. The meat was seasoned really well and so tender, smoky and delicious. IMG_20180222_200544I remember being reasonably full after the meal (I wanted to leave some room for street food) but now remembering how good it was I’m like “why didn’t I gorge myself??”

Afterwards James and I did some shopping in Myeongdong.
IMG_20180222_191348We bought some socks. I’d packed a selection of thin and thick socks but my feet had swollen so much from all the walking that I couldn’t wear the thick socks and needed to buy more thin ones. I dragged James around to a bunch of different shops because I wanted only the kitchiest, more hilarious socks.
IMG_20180223_084632(I got the one on the right because the little egg guy looks like he needs to pee)

When I looked up souvenirs from Korea, socks would always show up on the lists and I was like “huh?” But now I get it. They’re super cheap and fun – under $1 each. James enjoyed using the sock conversion rate for other stuff we bought in Seoul – so a $5 meal = 5 socks.

I also bought a twister potato (I can’t remember how much it was – I think around 3 socks). It had a kind of cheese powder on it and was way tastier than I was expecting. Photo evidence indicates that I found it delightful:
IMG_20180222_215708 And here I am, wielding it like a sword with a hat stall in the background: IMG_20180222_215731Also you can kind of see how I had to lace my boots to avoid hot spots and the painful/swollen parts of my feet. By that time I was basically using 4 eyelets to hold the whole thing together.

Day 8 – Oppan Gangnam Style!

On this day we explored the fancy part of Gangnam. We started at K-Star road which was a road decorated with a ton of K-pop band bears. The biggest, most prominent one was Psy:
IMG_20180223_104243As you can probably tell by now, Korea had a lot of these cute photo opportunities everywhere. I made James do this at the train station (but I think he kind of got into it):
IMG_20180223_103906We stopped at a place in Gangnam for lunch where I had oxtail soup:
IMG_20180223_123426 And James had something called “bomb ribs”: IMG_20180223_125618They were really good and not too expensive even though it was clearly a really nice restaurant in a really nice part of Seoul.

We walked to Garosugil, which is a really picturesque part of Gangnam with cool stores and trendy Koreans. James liked this bear and wished to emulate its fashion style:
IMG_20180223_135323My favourite store was a Karl Lagerfeld pop up that we randomly wandered into:
IMG_20180223_150401I tried on some t-shirts and in the changing room they had these gauze sheets to put over your face to stop makeup from getting on the clothes – pretty nifty! PANO_20180223_143640I ended up getting this one:
IMG_20180307_115308(It’s a bit wrinkly because, quite frankly, I wore it a couple of times when we got back and had to fish it out of the laundry for this photo).

We decided it would be better to kill time in Gangnam rather than heading back to the hotel only to stay 30 minutes before leaving for dinner, so James plotted a route to our dinner destination. On the way we passed a ton of plastic surgery places which we thought was pretty interesting.

And to my delight we also passed the Sulwhasoo flagship store! IMG_20180223_181226I had gone to Lotte to buy a couple of Sulwhasoo products because apparently the discounts there are quite good, but was really put off by the crowds of pushy, rude Chinese tourists. As you can see, the Sulwhasoo store was amazing in comparison and we were the only ones there.

We explored the ground floor, which had displays of ingredients and pretty containers:
IMG_20180223_173406 The store assistant brewed us some ginger (or maybe it was ginseng?) tea, and let us just explore around on our own.

I bought some Balancing Water and a large size of the First Care Activating Serum, which came with a 30ml sample. The lady who helped us was so sweet – she gave me a ton of samples – a toiletry bag, miniature candle, moisturising mist (which she said was for the plane ride home), and a balancing kit because I mentioned that I liked it. =) She also added some men’s samples for James!

The packaging was beautiful.
IMG_20180307_132350 The one on the bottom is their regular fabric wrapping and the one on top is a special Lunar New Year one for the year of the dog.

They also engraved it for me. =) (On the lid of the one in front and under the characters of the one behind) IMG_20180307_132550The more I think about it the more I marvel at the brand’s cleverness – because every time I use their skincare I’m going to be reminded of how lovely and luxurious that experience was.

Then it was time for our dinner at two Michelin starred Jungsik. We went with the tasting menu with a wine pairing split between us, and they made James dairy-free versions of the dishes he couldn’t have.

I wish I’d taken notes because I’m already forgetting the specifics of some of these dishes. =( I remember the ice cream one was a salmon pate in a cheese cone and the one to the right of it was a croquette-like dish with an incredible aioli sauce. They were all delicious.
IMG_20180223_191537I think these might have been battered fish?IMG_20180223_192004The next course was nori crackers and assorted toppings. From the top it was wasabi, kimchi, tomato, seaweed jelly, cream cheese, seaweed, roe, and yam, with tuna in the middle.
IMG_20180223_193536The tuna and roe were the best but I was super enamoured with the concept of the seaweed jelly.

Next I had a scallop in brown butter with peppercorns.
IMG_20180223_200031_1And James had mushrooms with sesame oil in a tiny little jar. IMG_20180223_200021Octopus with gochu sauce
IMG_20180223_201717 Royal bibimbap. I was a bit worried when I saw this on the list because we didn’t really want to eat more vegetarian bibimbap, but it was basically a truffle risotto (mine had cheese) and was fabulous. Here are our bowls before we mixed the rice and truffles: IMG_20180223_203615This was some sort of fish with spinach. I can’t remember what the fish was but it was very tender and very good.
IMG_20180223_205211 Galbi – it was great but I was starting to get really full at this point! IMG_20180223_211111A palate cleanser before dessert. James was given raspberry sorbet and I can’t remember what mine was, although I think the sauce was honey-based.
IMG_20180223_212441My dessert – chestnut ice cream, shaved chocolate, and I can’t remember what the honeycomb things were but I really liked them. IMG_20180223_213133James’ dessert of granola, soy milk and sorbet.
IMG_20180223_213155Which was followed by creme brulee for me and a little sorbet for James. Then some fancy tea: IMG_20180223_214853And even fancier cookies:
IMG_20180223_215241It was a lovely meal, quite well-priced, and I was so impressed that the waiter and sommelier was able to explain everything in english.

After dinner we capped off the night at a speakeasy called Alice. It was so much fun – combined with the gorgeous dinner, definitely the best night of our trip! The speakeasy was not signed but we knew we were in the right place when we saw this:
IMG_20180223_222025The vibe was good, the music was great, and they played the Alice in Wonderland cartoon on the wall. And OMG, the cocktails were so fun. Behold!

00002XTR_00002_BURST20180223223650-ANIMATION(And yes, there are tiny Pringles in the back. Because there was a cover charge – which is a thing in some Korean bars apparently – they gave us a small basket of snacks).

Look how happy James is with his Pringles and his glowing drink!
IMG_20180223_225159 My drink, which came with some birds and chocolate covered nut “eggs”. IMG_20180223_223739The menu was really cool too – graphic novel style and, leafing through it later in the night, we realised that it actually had illustrations of the drinks!
IMG_20180223_233150James’ next drink had a cheshire cat cocktail with fairy floss stuck to the outside as a snack. IMG_20180223_230920And mine came in a bunny mug!
IMG_20180223_230737Which, along with my previous drink, was also illustrated in the menu:
IMG_20180223_233133This was the bar area behind me. IMG_20180223_230718 Hmm, looks kind of familiar …IMG_20180223_233159One of the waiters really liked James. The bathroom was occupied when James went to use it and “his” waiter said to sit down and he’d let him know when it was free. He waited at the door until the guy left, then grabbed another waiter to hold his spot while he came and got James. They weren’t doing that for anyone else (not even me!!)

Later in the evening James asked him if there were any more drinks with unique presentation and he recommended:

The Stone Pot Ginseng (which James was happy about because it was what he wanted anyway):
IMG_20180223_235340And I don’t remember what this one was, but it was a little bit rose-y, a little bit citrusy and it came with an aromatherapy diffuser thingy that sprayed a rose scent while I drank. IMG_20180223_235544OMG!

We left it at three drinks because we were pretty tired and tipsy (though again, looking back I’m like “why didn’t we order more?? I want to know what the other drinks looked like!”

We asked about buying the bunny mug and our waiter (whom I think of as “James’ guy”) checked for him because they were custom made, then came back and apologetically said “I think the cost is not reasonable” – it was $170 (170 socks!!!)

So we nixed that idea – though maybe we should have bought it! It’s only money – and it would have made us happy every time we looked at it. Ah damnit. Anyway, James’ guy called a cab for us and while we were waiting he brought out some shots for the three of us to drink together. What a fun way to end our last night in Seoul!

Day 9 – Travel Day

Our final day! =(

After buying my socks I had massive sock regret at not getting more for our friends as souvenirs. So in the morning we went to Namdaemun market and Myeongdong and bought a shit ton of socks. We got pokemon socks, cat socks, Australian flag socks, Star Wars socks, chicken socks (for Cat), and more Psy socks (for souvenirs).
IMG_20180307_143650_1At the market we had some king dumpling buns (3 with pork, 2 with pork and kimchi, and the lady threw in an extra, unsellable – but still tasty – deformed pork and kimchi bun. They really hit the spot for a morning snack – 5 for $3.50:
IMG_20180224_091500I also became obsessed with these furry keychain. I got this gorilla for $5 (and later found out they were selling them for $3.80 at Myeongdong *sigh*. But look how cute he is! I keep patting his soft leathery face: IMG_20180307_144525
James chose this colour because he thought it made him look like a yeti.

And this keychain is my favourite. It was really expensive ($15) but I figure the price was ballpark enough not to keep haggling because the seller let me walk away at $10 and had started at $30. I had to go back in defeat 15 minutes later and buy him because I couldn’t find him anywhere else.

I think of him as a boy but in my head I have named him “Lady Gaga”:
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Oh, and as a last picture, this fucking strawberry. I kept seeing this franchise around Myeongdong and every time I would get freaked out because that little prancing strawberry is so disturbing.IMG_20180224_123755_1
Ugh, look at it frolic. So gross.

Then it was time to go back to the hotel and pack. It was a bit of a tight squeeze getting everything in because we bought more souvenirs than expected (socks!)

So yeah, that was our hastily-planned trip to Seoul. It came together pretty well I think, and we had a great time. =) I think if James had to go back I would want to tag along again – we could go back to Alice! Eat more KBBQ and go to some of the restaurants we missed!

(Buy more socks!)

A Visit to YouTube

3 Jan

A couple of months ago (yes I am very behind – happy new year by the way!) Jaimie and I visited James at YouTube.2018-01-03 (3)We had lunch at one of the cafes – there are only a few to choose from so we ate at the one that James said always has better food. He had a bowl of soup; Jaimie and I both had two lunches (one was an Indian curry and the other was roast pork with zucchini salad) and then lunch-dessert.

They had this outside! Meeting table? Lunch table? At any rate I feel the design was flawed because Jaimie and I knocked into each other a couple of times.
2018-01-03 (2) (1)James kept hyping down the YouTube office, and while it’s true that there aren’t as many cool things as in New York or Mountain View, there were still some interesting things to see. Warning: it’s all very red.

Slide!
MVIMG_20171127_135034Non-Google employees not allowed. =(

Video immersion room! We still have no idea what this was because it was down when we were visiting. Nevertheless, we stood in line like idiots.
MVIMG_20171127_131623All the meeting rooms were named after internet memes (at least I think that’s what James said). There were lots of TVs playing different YouTube videos, and generally the internet was a big decorating theme.
IMG_20171127_131713There was some special room with a green screen and fancy recording equipment, where James said they invited YouTube creators to come and film. We couldn’t go inside but I’m not sure whether it’s because people were using it or because we weren’t allowed to see it.

Claw machine!MVIMG_20171127_133940It was calibrated harder than the Seattle office one so we didn’t win anything (Jaimie wanted one of the water bottles).

They also had baristas and a juice bar. At the coffee bar they had pastries on display and a little sticker that said “You are so thoughtful because you take just enough and come back for more”. It shamed me and I didn’t take any. I did get a jasmine ice tea though, and also a jalapeno and kale juice at the juice bar.

The others got coffee and while we waited we took photos at the YouTube news desk.
IMG_20171127_132842 (1)Afterwards James showed us the disc golf course/walking trail outside. It’s a smaller, less sprawling office than Mountain View, and a much shorter commute. He said it’s much nicer to not have tourists wandering around (present company notwithstanding).

Thanks for the YouTube tour Jamesy!
2018-01-03 (1) (1)

Indonesia: Adventure Tour of the Komodo Islands

18 Aug

James really wanted to see the Komodo dragons while we were in Indonesia. There are heaps of tour companies offering multi-day trips but we ended up going with FloresXP because they seemed like a decent compromise between the overcrowded budget tours and the $10,000 luxury tours. The owner Max was great to communicate with, the website was easy to navigate, group sizes were small (ours was 6 people), and the reviews were great.

The sleeping quarters were pretty basic. This photo was taken before they put sheets on the mattresses, but you get the idea – we were all sleeping in the same room together.
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And the combined shower/toilet room was a little offputting. Think of those teeny tiny powder rooms with a toilet. You had to manually flush the toilet by pouring water in (there was a tub of water with a scoop floating inside), and the toilet paper was disposed of in a bin. There was a handheld shower at the opposite end and when you wanted hot water you had to let the captain know so he could run the generator. The toilet was so close to the shower I was worried it would splash all over but the water pressure was so low that it wasn’t a problem if you were careful.

I’m not going to lie – I was bloody worried. This is not the Diary of a Deprived Housewife. But wow, was it worth it! The trip was packed with trekking and snorkeling, and the physical exertion and crazy natural beauty made for a memorable four days.

Day 1

We were picked up from our hotel and taken to the boat. The crew introduced themselves, explained the itinerary and boat rules, then we headed to Rinca Island to check out the Komodo dragons.

A pod of dolphins escorted us part of the way. Awesome.

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photo from Justin

We went to the park office to pay the fees allowing us to trek and snorkel the national park that day. This was easily the most unpleasant part of the trip (yes, I’m including using the marine toilet).

The fees are ridiculously high but hey, whatever, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, they need the money and rich foreigners can afford it. But it was insult to injury that if you didn’t have exact change the staff (the fat old guys in the office – not the young guides working outside) would keep the extra for themselves – they called it a “tip”. Ugh. I think it’s just one of those things that’s really annoying but you have to learn to let it go because ultimately it’s a few dollars and just what happens to tourists. =/

The Komodo dragons mainly lazed around the office so you didn’t need to walk far to see them.

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photo from Justin

We also did a light hike (maybe 45 minutes?) around part of the island where they showed us some dragon nests. It was soo hot – no wonder the Komodo dragons just lie around all day.
IMG_20160521_125506We had lunch and did some snorkeling afterwards to search for manta rays but no dice. =(

We couldn’t linger too long because we had to go to Padar Island for a hike to see the sun set. Here we are at the top:

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photo from Ciara

Our group was James, me, Ben, Ciara and Justin. We are missing one member because even though he was a strong hiker he didn’t like the height and the tiny ridges we had to walk to get up there. He missed this gorgeous view.

Padar Sunset II

photo from Ben

It was actually a pretty short hike distance-wise but it was very uphill – remember we started at sea level! Going up was fine – just a matter of cardio and leg strength – but going down steep hills in the dark was pretty dicey and I kept skidding on the dirt/gravel and making our poor guide very nervous. But I made it back to the boat in one piece and we had dinner before showering and going to bed.

Day 2

I didn’t realise this at the time, but we had signed up for the 4 hour adventure trek on Komodo Island (in hindsight it’s obvious – it’s the name of the tour!). There were no bullshit “tips” to the office staff this time but the fees were doubled because it was a Sunday so we were all a bit unthrilled with that. =/

Like with Rinca Island we saw a lot of Komodo dragons at the start, but we were also fortunate enough to see some more about 30 minutes into our hike. We asked the guide how he could tell the males and females apart and he said that the females were smaller and had “a more beautiful shaped head”. So I think this one was female?

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photo from Justin

I checked the weather and it was 33C but apparently because of the humidity it “felt like” 45C which sounds about right. It was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. We didn’t have enough water – maybe 1 litre each – and had all pretty much run out before the halfway mark. I actually left my second water bottle on the boat because like I said earlier, I hadn’t realised we were going out for 4 hours!

I think the head guide told us that the distance was 10km and we went up about 200 meters (it’s been awhile so I might have that elevation wrong). We were all in reasonable shape but humidity makes weaklings of us all.

Check out James’ intense torso sweat:IMG_20160522_110754(I was no better. I looked like I’d been swimming in a pool.)

This next photo was about the halfway point – lots of downhill to go. The sweat has reached the crotch but James still has some pep left in him:
IMG_20160522_110345Our two guides were machines – they barely broke a sweat, shared their water with us, plus after we reached the boat pickup point they had to turn around and do the hike again in reverse. We all did the super American thing and tipped them heavily because they deserved it way more than those desk guys did.

It sounds weird, but the experience of pushing through the dehydration, tiredness and humidity was one of my favourite parts of the trip. Or maybe my favourite part was getting back to the boat and drinking my bodyweight in water.

After lunch we set off to Batu Bolong for some snorkeling. James and I were still exhausted from the hike and almost decided to just stay on the boat, but the crew told us we’d be missing out if we didn’t.
underwaterWhoa.

From the surface it looked like nothing special – just a giant rock in the middle of the ocean – but underneath it was a watery paradise! There were so many species of fish and all this gorgeous colourful coral. I also saw some eels and a turtle.

I think it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Every direction we turned it was unbelievably gorgeous; we were giddy swimming around just staring at everything.
jamesfish2
This black brainy thing in the bottom right was one of my favourite things. I don’t know what it was (I found it in the marine life guide afterwards but it’s slipping my mind now). You can’t really tell from the picture but in real life it was glowing like crazy and just so, so pretty.
prettyseaurchin2So yeah, that was pretty amazing! I can’t remember what we did afterwards – I think we might have gone somewhere else to snorkel and then we docked at Gili Lawa for some swimming while the crew prepared dinner.

Day 3

We woke up early in the morning for a hike on Gili Lawa to see the sunrise. It was nonstop steep uphill, but because the sun hadn’t risen it was a cakewalk compared to the day before.
IMG_20160523_060115Steep gravelly path – my downhill nemesis!

Again we were treated to gorgeous views where you felt like you were on top of the world. IMG_20160523_061242In the photo below you can see the sun rising on the left at the same time as the moon setting on the right. I think it’s kind of cool that James is lit from the sun and I’m still kind of in shadow.
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I felt simultaneously wholesome for hiking before breakfast but kind of gross from the dirt and sweat.

After breakfast we went on another search for manta rays. The captain went looking for one of their feeding channels so we could see a lot of mantas without expending too much effort. And this time we hit jackpot!

You might remember we saw some manta rays in Hawaii and I fucked up with the GoPro and didn’t have the camera running. This time I wasn’t taking any chances and gave the GoPro to James. Afterwards he was super excited and was like “I got some awesome footage!”

I couldn’t believe how close they got to us – pretty much within touching distance.

Here is a manta ray, a whole bunch of fish, and even a jellyfish. We got stung a couple of times by jellyfish in the water but it wasn’t too bad. Totally worth it to see the mantas!
mantafishandjellyAfterwards it was time for lunch and then snorkeling at Sebayur Island. It was this protected little area with really calm water.

There was a lot of cool stuff to see – lots of fish (including a barramundi!), sea cucumbers, coral, a couple of eels, an octopus, and a cool blue starfish.
starfishjames
I got separated from James and started following a trigger fish around. I must have gotten too close to its … I want to say … nest? – do fish have nests? Anyway, I got too close to where it didn’t want me, so it full on attacked. (FYI: mute the video if you don’t want to hear a LOT of shrieking)


What a mean fish.

(Also I showed this video to James and he laughed and laughed. James, you are no better than that dickhead fish.)

No wait, he’s OK. Here he is getting revenge for me. It’s probably not the same one, but it’ll pass on the message.

m4oc6plpz8ahg

After all the excitement at Sebayur it was time to head to a pirate island to spend the night on land. On the way we saw more manta rays and some flying fish.

The island had a separate shower and toilet – luxury. And a hammock!
IMG_20160523_173054These were the sleeping cabins which all had ocean views. The building on the right was the kitchen and communal eating area.IMG_20160523_173511The hills behind the camp had goats. Goats! (I don’t know why that excited me so much since we’d probably seen hundreds of mantas that day)

We were climbing before dinner and heard some bleating which we all thought was one of the other group members. So we kept bleating at each other until we figured out we were actually having a conversation with the hill goats.

And this is where we watched the sun set.
IMG_20160523_173534James getting some meditation in before dinner (also you can see our boat in the background!)
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Surprisingly, sleeping in the cabin was less comfortable than sleeping on the boat – it was much hotter (it took me forever to get to sleep) and I missed the ocean breeze. But still, it was still a fun experience and a nice way to end the day.

Day 4

The next morning we did some more snorkeling and saw some more manta rays. They are so chill and graceful in the water – I could spend all day watching them! In the video below there was just one manta to begin with but he lead us to a big group.

Then it was time for lunch and off to Mawan Island for some free time. Look how gorgeous and secluded it was! We were the only ones there the whole time.
IMG_20160524_130614Ben was off scuba diving and the others were resting on the boat which was their loss because I saw a freaking shark. It was just a little one, but still really cool.

We spent the next hour or so relaxing and exploring the beach. James is wearing Justin’s spare pair of bathers because he left his on pirate island. =(
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Also at the top of my leg where it meets my bikini you can kind of see my original skin colour to get an idea of how dark I got! The backs of my legs were another few shades darker than the front since that was where the sun hit the most while I was swimming.

It’s a bit hard to tell from the photo but the wet sand has a slightly pink hue from the mix of the white and red coral. If you grabbed a handful of it you could see the individual flecks of red that gave it the pinkish tint.

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photo from Nicola

After our beach time we visited Rinca village and did another short (but so hot and so humid) hike to visit a bat cave. Then it was time for our Komodo adventure to come to an end. =( We sat on the roof of the boat in the dark, watching the stars and and flying foxes as we headed back to Labuan Bajo.

So yeah, it was a pretty intense few days. I’m pretty sure we stank at the end of it. I’m definitely not used to the humidity and lack of mod cons, but the FloresXP crew took such wonderful care of us that the boat felt a lot more luxurious than it actually was. I can’t believe how much amazing stuff we got to see in just a few days and what a beautiful world we live in.

Bay Area Holiday: Day 5 (Pixar!!!!!)

15 Aug

A few days before our holiday Nancy emailed us and was like “I hope this is OK, but I’ve gotten us a private tour of Pixar.”

“I hope this is OK”. HA!

It was a huge privilege to tour Pixar. They don’t do public tours and it’s a closed campus so you have to know someone to even get inside. I think they occasionally do tours for charity but they cost like $500.

The excitement began even in the car park. Well actually it began in the morning when I woke up and was like “it’s Pixar day!” but the documented excitement began in the car park.

image nicked from Christine

And from the car park to the actual campus. I suspect that Pixar rotate this fixture depending on their most recent release.

image nicked from Christine

Clearly I was the only one going for the learned look.

And of course, Luxo!!!

image nicked from Christine

I would totally watch a movie about Luxo and his ball.

Across from Luxo was the building where we did the bulk of our tour.

Unfortunately I can’t talk about everything we saw because of the NDA. Everything I’m posting here is already public knowledge. I have some pictures from where we were allowed to take pictures and I figure I can vaguely allude to their awesomeness but I’m going to err on the side of caution and not talk about some of the really cool stuff we learned. Sorry! I’ve seen some bloggers who seem to have gotten clearance to talk about more so if you’re interested this chick goes into more detail.

We learned a bit about the storyboarding, writing and animation process and got to see how much effort they go to so everything is perfect. It’s not automated – they have people rendering everything – like each individual hair on someone’s head – crazy attention to detail like that. Every film really is such a labour of love. =)

Oh yeah also in the main lobby they had all their Oscars and awards.

They had some fan drawings in the display case too. Did you know that they keep all of their fan mail? Totally made me feel warm and fuzzy.

The vibe is very creative and cool. Pixar let their employees do what they need to do to be productive. They have the usual stuff on campus like a pool, soccer field, gym, cinemas where they have weekly movie screenings (and they bring in the director for a Q&A session!), basketball court, and a few employee bars. I’m not sure if Google and Pixar are awesome or if these are fairly typical Silicon Valley perks, but either way we were all impressed.

The campus wasn’t as large as Google – Google have their bikes to get around and Pixar have little scooters. So cute!

One thing that already seems to be public knowledge is the cereal bar. I think I remember seeing a video about it on YouTube or something – they have a room with a cool espresso machine and a bunch of different cereals.

Also a fridge full of milk. I don’t know why I’m so excited by the milk.

There are murals and artwork everywhere and apparently the main building was designed as a “town square” kind of ideal, where people constantly meet up and exchange ideas. Megan told us that the original intent was to have only one restroom so you’d have to cross paths but thankfully for the employees that didn’t make the final cut.

I didn’t get a good shot of the downstairs area but you can kind of see it in this photo: (note the temporary Monsters University decorations)

Most of the photo props were for Monsters University. This was Nancy posing for her Monsters University student ID:

image nicked from Christine

I’ve seen the Toy Story 3 version, where you could stand inside a box and pretend you were a Barbie or something. Fun. =)

They had an Incredibles exhibit upstairs but that was the only spot where we could take photos. You know that everyone does this pose, but no sense reinventing the wheel.

image nicked from Christine

Upstairs was where all the really cool stuff was (seriously, even their meeting rooms were gorgeous). They had rotating exhibits based on the last two movies that were released – in our case, Monsters University and Brave. We got to see a lot of their storyboards, notes, clay models and story ideas. There were all these detailed notes about plot/character arcs, how the story and the visual inform each other, and first-draft sketches.

We also got special permission to go through and have a look at where the animators worked. I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about what we saw, but it was also very, very cool. =P

The Pixar store had mainly Monster University stuff and like the exhibits the focus is on the current movie. I was tempted by a couple of the hoodies but they were too big. =( After browsing the store we had lunch at the cafe where we saw John Lasseter. Christine and I were super excited but were like “OK, be cool. We gotta be cool.” I totally geeked out about it later though – I was like … 5 meters away from John Lasseter!

Needless to say, the tour was wonderful. I was overflowing with happiness the whole time and was so grateful to have the opportunity to tour one of the best companies in the world!

Sully isn’t looking at me. I ain’t even mad.

Bay Area Holiday: Day 4 (Academy of Sciences and Google)

13 Aug

In the morning James and I had breakfast (it was OK but really not worth the $50 or so we paid – I still maintain that nothing comes close to a good breakfast at Fandango in Melbourne), rented a ZipCar and headed to the Academy of Sciences.

It’s kind of like an aquarium/nature-focused exhibition and was very kid-friendly. Probably about 30% of the visitors were young kids – if I’d remembered that our visit was during school holidays we probably would have left it for another trip to SF just to avoid the crowds.

The Academy of Sciences isn’t huge – we saw everything in about 2.5-3 hours. One of the highlights was the rainforest dome:

It was humid as soon as we entered. There was a pool at the bottom with fish as big as me! There were lizards, fish and snakes in little exhibits and free range butterflies (GIANT butterflies!) and spiders. Plus two macaws which was pretty cool.

Apparently on weekends there are hour-long queues for the dome. We walked straight in but when we left around midday there was already a pretty significant line. Definitely go early so it’s not too crowded! The glass exhibits are pretty small so if even 3 or 4 people are looking you have to wait your turn.

So we spent a bit of time wandering up the five (I think?) levels before taking the elevator down to the aquarium level. The aquarium was the second highlight of the museum – just do the dome and aquarium if you’re pressed for time (which you shouldn’t be because it’s really expensive to get in and you want to get your money’s worth!).

Here they had a diver throwing around food so the fish would zip together from one side to the other.

Afterwards we had a quick peek of the Living Roof (it changes every year – the first year they had wild strawberries!)

We also picked up tickets for a Planetarium show.

The giant overhead dome screen was cool (though somewhat nausea-inducing at times) but the show was definitely geared towards kids. Or maybe I have just googled too many space facts.

Speaking of googling, after the Planetarium we headed off to, well, Google. Paul, a good friend of Julian’s, was kind enough to show us around even though he was obviously super busy.

The grounds are massive! If you think of those giant office parks in the outer suburbs that’s what this was like. There’s not a lot close by like with the Amazon campus. Paul actually lives in San Francisco and takes the free shuttle (with wifi!) into work, which is probably like a 40 minute trip. Google started out as one building and gradually bought the others until they owned everything. To get from one part of Google to another employees used these cute little bikes:

(I don’t know why Joel and James seem to think they’re motorbikes)

Paul showed us the main building which had a lot of cool stuff that I wasn’t allowed to take photos of. Like awesome 3D google street views of the world and visual data for how many searches were being done a second and in what languages. They take security pretty seriously – we all had to show our visitor passes before we could get out of the lobby.

There was food everywhere! Paul said that Google has a policy where every work area should be 150 feet max from food. So there are kitchens everywhere with fully stocked fridges (though he said they tend to run low towards the end of the day) and espresso machines. There were 16 restaurants around the campus with free food. It wasn’t just lame stuff – we saw a Japanese restaurant (with those cool tatami tables), a Boost-like juice bar that also had alot of vegan options, and also a sandwich shop. Seriously, you could just live there (which I guess is the point).

OMG! Office with a freaking slide!

I actually don’t have a lot of photos of Google because a lot of the things we weren’t allowed to take photos of. =( And we were constantly walking and looking at things. We saw some motorbike that has the power of a jet engine! I think Paul said it was owned by one of the main Google guys.

There was also a Google store, with the usual hoodies/bumper stickers/tshirts/Android accessories and also a bunch of random stuff like leather bags with the Google logo.

Outside they have a couple of infinity pools for people to use and legally they have to have a lifeguard there. Cushiest lifeguard job ever – 99% of the time you would just be surfing the net.

These are cute sculptures of their Android release names (which are all based on desserts). Paul said that they don’t know what the release is going to be called and they all gather round to watch the sculpture get installed. And then they’re like “ohhh! Ice cream sandwich!”

That area is open to the public so we saw a lot of people taking photos. Paul said that he’s come in on the weekend and seen tour buses stationed there. There was one guy who really desperately wanted to get in on our tour and Paul was put in the pretty uncomfortable position of rejecting his pleas. =( Basically you can’t get a tour unless you know someone who works at Google, so we were very fortunate.

So yeah, that was our glimpse into Google! Probably all those cool perks eventually become mundane. Paul even said that you get used to the free food (I would NEVER!) but as an outsider it was all pretty awesome. =)

Bay Area Holiday: Day 3 (Kink.com)

10 Aug

Kink.com is a porn website specialising in BDSM, and all these review sites said that their tour is really informative and fun. And if you think about it, it’s pretty San Franciscan right?

Kink bought a building in Castro that used to be where the National Guard did its training. The building is enormous – I think it took up the whole block and I think our tour guide said it was 200,000 square feet.

Joel and James thought the outside was great for bouldering.

The walls keep going up! I think our guide said the building had 5 floors. Luckily the boys stuck to the lower parts.

We waited outside for the tour to start. There were maybe 6 women on the tour and 20 guys. Judging by the questions, a lot of the tour audience were pretty familiar with the website. I think we might have been the only ones who weren’t, but I’d just read that this was a really interesting tour – which it was!

I mean, this stuff isn’t for me (some of it was downright terrifying), but it seemed like they treat the actors ethically and go to great lengths to make sure they’re OK with all the sex acts.

We got taken through a lot of porn sets. The set designers are constantly switching them out and this one was wild west themed:

The floors were actually soft! Our tour guide said that the actors were on their knees a lot (obviously) but they didn’t want it to be uncomfortable. She said there was pain/discomfort that the actors had consented to (like whipping, getting tied up, etc) but they tried to minimise the pain/discomfort that was just environmental and didn’t add anything.

Oh yeah, this was a totally creepy set. It looked like a horror movie! There were hooks in the ceiling and (painted-on) rust stains everywhere.

It was described as a “wet set” because they’d do things that required lots of water and there were drains in the floor so the water could drain out and not flood the rest of the sets. There was also a cage built into the ground.

Oh! We saw this totally scary thing where they would tie someone to the ceiling and there was this metal box built into the floor. And you could close the doors around someone’s neck so they were in pitch black, suspended upside down. In the photo below you can see the semicircles in the lid that close around someone’s neck. Inside the box there was a camera so you could see the actor’s face (both for audience titillation and actor safety).

We saw a couple of medical-like sets with electricity and stuff. Apparently that’s where they film their “Wired Pussy/Electro Sluts” series. James was so disapproving of how crude the names were. Afterwards he told me “they should have classier titles – like Naughty Ladies Who Like Electricity”. =D

This set was where they filmed a slave series. Here is James in one of the slave dungeons.

We saw a couple of other sets – one decorated like a classy loft (dungeon under the staircase of course) with a nice kitchen and a totally mundane shopping list.

“Sharp cheddar cheese (the 3 yr old Vermont kind if they have it)” Ha!

Right next to that set was a scary mental asylum set with a one-way mirror looking into a padded cell.

And a fake alley with fake garbage and even fake grass in the corners.

The prop room was really cool too. They had mundane stuff, like chairs and tables:

Juxtaposed with weird stuff, like a human hamster wheel.

They also had this whiteboard, which Joel our resident PhD chemist said was very inaccurate, though in the ballpark. Joely’s turn to shine!

Attached to the prop room were a couple of other sets. This one was done up as an homage to Battlestar Galactica.

And had what the guide described as a “fucking machine”. Notice its little dildo.

Nothing compared to the big trolley of dildos just outside:

After all that, the university teacher/student set seemed pretty vanilla.

Right next door was where they kept all their whips and chains (the opposite wall was similarly outfitted). You can see the straitjacket that goes with the mental asylum set.

After that floor we descended into the basement, which the National Guard used as their shooting range. There was actually a little creek running through it (I think it was called Mission Creek), and apparently a lot of buildings are just built on top of the creek.

The watermarks here are real. I think our guide said that the basement was flooded when they bought the building and they had to pump it out. They’ve rented this space out for music videos.

I laughed at this because I am juvenile.

There was also a supplies room with loads of lube and condoms and a sign that said “For Models Only! Do Not Take For Your Own Consumption!”

Here are some industrial-size tubs of disinfectant. Which I guess makes sense, but ew.

We were all walking along the halls peeking into the rooms. One of them was a giant bathroom with heaps of working urinals; it served dual purpose as a set and as a restroom. But nothing could beat the costume room for sheer confusion:

Joel asked about the panda heads and the guide told us that they’d filmed a panda gangbang called Pandamonium (PandaMOANium?). And that actually, the actors really got into it – they stayed in character and one guy was chewing bamboo in between takes. She said that the panda porn has been their most commented-on video. They’ve used the costumes a few times since then, so they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

The second last room she showed us was where they film something called Ultimate Surrender. It’s a girl-on-girl wrestling match and the winner gets to *cough* fuck the loser.

I was telling James that I reckon I’d be quite good at it (I got beat all the time in BJJ but I could definitely take a random porn star) but the guide said that you didn’t actually get points for wrestling – you got points for groping and kissing the other person and I was like “oh”.

Oh yeah, and the matches aren’t rigged – they don’t know who is going to win.

The last room she took us to was this absolutely enormous. I think the guide said that it had been used for Star Wars at one point? But I wasn’t 100% listening because as she was explaining a cat wandered into the room and I got all excited (not panda excited).

His name was Rudy and apparently he sometimes likes to join the tours. =)

But anyway our guide said that they sometimes rent out the space for events but their eventual plan is to turn it into a kind of community outreach center – they hope to have farmer’s markets in there and regular events (they’re adding a catering kitchen to the level).

So yeah, that was the tour! The guide was really nice and informative and it was cool to kind of go behind the scenes of a porn studio. Between the porn, Google and Pixar I feel like we got a pretty interesting spectrum of Bay Area companies. And unlike Google and Pixar you can pay to go on the tour so it’s open to everyone! There’s a bit of BDSM-themed artwork in the first room but the rest of it is relatively tame (though they describe the porny acts). Not PG but definitely interesting and worth doing if you’re in San Francisco!